In its first meeting open to public comment Monday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance heard several themes echoed. One major one: Texas needs to figure out how much it actually costs to meet the state’s academic goals.
For example, Texas officials in higher education want the majority of young adults to have a college degree or another certificate beyond a high school diploma by 2030. And state lawmakers want all high school graduates to be prepared for either college or a career.
But Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers told the panel that those aren’t realistic expectations based on how Texas pays for public schools.
“I’m just asking that this commission, however you want to do it, somehow has to align what you expect out of us with the resources provided,” Chamber said. “Because right now the resources being provided are to meet a standard that’s right here, when the standards have been increased over the last five-six years exponentially.”
Chambers joined other administrators and experts asking the commission to study the cost of educating the state’s five million school children.
The panel is supposed to give state lawmakers recommendations to improve school funding. It was created after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in the state’s largest school finance lawsuit that the system was imperfect, but declined to mandate any fixes to the Texas Legislature.
The last time Texas had a commission on school finance reform in the 1980’s, it studied how much it cost to fund a high quality education. Since then academic standards and goals have changed.
“I urge this commission to really try to figure out what it takes to meet the outcomes that we desire and not to tie your hands prematurely and leave it up to the legislature to decide what’s feasible, what kind of shifting of budget priorities need to be made and if tax increases are what we need to fund our schools,” said Chandra Villanueva, an analyst with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Other themes that the panel heard: money matters and the issue of equity.
Paul Colbert, a former state representative who chaired budget and oversight of public education on the House Appropriations Committee, said that for the top students, money doesn’t matter.
“Your bright kids are going to do well regardless of what you do. But if your goal is to educate all of your children, then how much money you put in and how equitably you distribute it will answer whether or not you’re going to really be able to educate all of the children,” Colbert said.
David Hinojosa with the Intercultural Development Research Association gave the panel a list of what he finds as roadblocks to equity in the funding system.
“When we talk about whether or not education is the great equalizer, I don’t even think we can ever get there, if the funding system is so unequal and inequitable,” Hinojosa said.
By Kathy Cruz, February 28, 2018 – FW WEEKLY
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not kill political careers.” If Tuesday’s primary election leaves a political body count among lawmakers who have gone along with the controversial school voucher system pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on where you stand) may go to the 2,000-member Fort Worth-based Pastors for Texas Children (PTC).
Through community meetings held across the state, PTC, founded in 2013 by Baptist preacher Charles Foster Johnson, has worked to gin up support for public schools and to target lawmakers who have stood as a threat to said schools’ constitutionally mandated funding. The pastors view vouchers as benefiting families who can already afford costly private schools and feel there are other problems with the plan as well.
The vast majority of the state’s more than 5.3 million schoolchildren are from families that must rely on public education. Those who favor a voucher system say it would make public schools better because they would have to compete with private schools for students and taxpayer dollars, but members of PTC (and others) aren’t buying it.
The voucher proposal, which opponents often refer to as a “scheme,” floundered in the 2017 legislature, but it has failed before only to be resuscitated by politicians. A 13-member commission to study the school finance system was born out of last summer’s special session, and the panel was directed to deliver its recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 31. It is likely that vouchers – also called “education savings accounts” or “tax credits” – will resurface yet again during the 86th Legislature when it gets underway next year on Jan. 8.
“What we have in our lieutenant governor is someone who essentially wants to privatize public education and manipulates his Senate members toward those policies,” Johnson said. “So until we elect enough senators who tell him no, the voucher policy’s going to keep coming back like a bad penny.”
Though there are voters who do support the idea, there is a question of just how many and whether lawmakers have been duped into thinking that the majority of their constituents favor a school voucher system when maybe they don’t. Last March, questions arose after a school choice group flooded the offices of lawmakers from mostly rural areas with letters bearing the names of constituents – some of whom were known by the lawmakers to support public schools and who claim to have never participated in any on-line pro-voucher petitions.
By taking on “Big Ed,” state lawmakers who are facing challenges to re-election may be – we’ll find out Tuesday – falling headlong into a political pit. The danger isn’t just from the statewide network of pastors, many of whom have spouses or other family members who work in public schools and whose congregations include current and former school district employees. The threat is also coming from a number of powerful advocacy groups, including the Texas Association of School Boards, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Parent PAC, and the Center for Public Policy Priorities. As well, there are business leaders who fear that reducing funding for public schools may negatively impact the future workforce.
Lawmakers’ problems don’t end there.
A rift has been growing within the Republican Party, which dominates both the Texas House and Senate. For weeks during last year’s legislative session, animosity intensified against the Texas Freedom Caucus, a small group of mega-conservative lawmakers that had formed in February. One of its members is District 60 state Rep. Mike Lang of Granbury, a Tea Party favorite who has backed some versions of the voucher idea and whose campaign website states that “the choice of education needs to be in the hands of the parents.” Lang is now embroiled in a bitter re-election fight against fellow Republican Jim Largent, Granbury’s school superintendent. (A lesser-known Republican, Gregory Risse of Coleman County, is also on the ballot for that seat but is not actively campaigning.)
The race, considered to be among the top to watch in the GOP primary, is reflective of the acrimony within the party.
Earlier this month, Largent pulled out of a candidates forum hosted by the Republican Party of Hood County after Tea Party activists who had infiltrated that group’s leadership adopted – and actively publicized – a blistering no-confidence resolution against him. Largent and his supporters responded by hosting their own event on the same night as the forum, billing it as the “Common Sense Conservative Republican Rally.”
Largent drew the larger crowd, as evidenced by photos taken from different angles at both events. Lang’s appearance at Granbury City Hall drew fewer than 50 people, while one estimate put the number of attendees at Largent’s come-and-go affair at Revolver Brewing at several hundred. But that didn’t stop Lang’s former campaign manager and former chief of staff, Zachary Maxwell, now coalition director for the ultra-conservative group Empower Texans, from posting on social media a cropped photo of the Lang event that omitted rows of empty chairs with a claim that Lang had spoken to a “packed house.”
Although Johnson said the PTC isn’t coordinating with public school advocacy groups, they all are working toward the same goal: replacing lawmakers who support vouchers with those who don’t.
“I think we’re going to turn it in the 2018 elections,” he said of his pastors group and others who oppose vouchers. “I do think we have the ability to change the face of Texas politics. I think the secret is educating communities about the threat to public education. A church leader is a spokesman. A church leader has a constituency built in. A pastor is a community leader. He already has a platform. He already has people following him on Facebook and followers on Twitter. And when we can educate that pastor as an advocate for public education, we get a powerful spokesperson for public education. Democracy’s a beautiful thing.”
Ninety-five of the House’s 150 seats, all of which are on the ballot this year, are currently held by Republicans. Twenty-seven Democratic incumbents drew no challengers, but only 10 Republicans were so lucky.
In the Senate, 20 of the chamber’s 31 seats are held by Republicans. Fifteen Senate seats are on the 2018 ballot, and all but one –– the seat held since 1993 by Democrat Royce West of Dallas –– are contested.
Charles Luke, executive director of Spiritual Care Network of Tarrant County and coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools, of which PTC is a member organization, feels confident that change is coming.
“The business community is going, ‘OK, we don’t like extremist politics,’ ” Luke said. “ ‘We don’t like you trying to spend our time and our tax money on issues that don’t resonate with us, are bad for business, and aren’t going to be helpful in educating our populace to be a strong participant in the business community.’ So that message, I believe, is going to be sent pretty loud and clear by business support. A lot of these extremist policies you’re seeing coming out of the Senate –– and we’ve got some House members that support them –– I believe that’s going to be over with before too long. I believe the pendulum is swinging back to a more reasonable, rational approach to public policy.”
If Tuesday brings a swing of the pendulum, the church leaders will have worked to achieve that change in a way that is unique in light of bitter bipartisan political divisions both statewide and nationally. They did not engage in personal attacks or angry confrontations, nor did they publicly support one candidate over another. Whatever political careers they may have snuffed out, they killed with kindness.
Shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday, Feb. 14, vehicle after vehicle pulled into the parking lot of The Table Community Church, located in northeastern Tarrant County across from Boswell High School, part of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district. Standing in springlike weather just outside the door of The Effie Center, a building on the church campus where an after-school program is provided for teens, was Johnson. He greeted school and government officials and others as they arrived for one of PTC’s community meetings. Inside, a five-piece student jazz band from Boswell performed while attendees queued up for a catered Mexican buffet and then filled every seat, about 100 them. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner, and several candidates for public office were among those in attendance.
The hour-long pep rally in praise of public ed involved remarks from Luke and several other spiritual leaders. It ended with the presentation of a plaque to District 99 State Rep. Charlie Geren for his support of public education. Geren is being challenged in the Republican primary by Bo French. Democrat Michael Stackhouse is also seeking to unseat him.
With PTC’s community meetings, which will continue even after Tuesday’s election, Johnson aims to show appreciation and support for those currently working in the state’s public school system while encouraging attendees to show their support of public schools at the polls. PTC’s mission includes promoting social justice for children and working to advance legislation aimed at that goal. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the organization doesn’t endorse specific candidates.
“We endorse public education for all children, fully funded, particularly on the early grade level, and we oppose the privatization of it –– that is, using our tax dollars to subsidize private education for affluent people,” Johnson said. “So all over the state we’re going into communities with this message, and we’re telling them to vote. Vote for public education. Study the candidates. Determine who supports public education and vote for that candidate. And take 10 other people to the polls with you to do the same.”
Though some have described the coordinated push as an anti-Tea Party movement, Johnson said that is not the case with PTC.
“We’ve got lots of Tea Party folks,” he said. “Most smart Tea Party people, why would they want the government expanding into their private schools through a voucher? We encourage people to vote. We’re building civic engagement, rallying the community to get behind the public schools and to vote for a House and Senate member who will do the same. It’s that simple. The voucher is government intrusion into our home and private schools. It’s wasteful. It’s an entitlement. There’s no accountability attached to it, and so conservatives oppose it. If someone calls themselves a conservative and is pro-voucher, he’s stolen the term and is not using it correctly because conservatives stand for limited government and fiscal accountability.”
With many private schools being religion-based, Luke said that the voucher system would threaten religious liberty, despite claims to the contrary by lawmakers.
“Religious liberty is a huge piece of Pastors for Texas Children,” he said. “We believe that if the state starts giving money to church schools, then the next step is the state’s going to tell that church school what curriculum they can use and the next step is to tell them what they can and cannot preach in the church school and what they can and can’t say in their congregation. We just don’t want the state getting their fingers into a church school that way.”
Opponents say that only district and charter schools offer true accountability and transparency. And, while proponents claim that vouchers would give students from low-income families a greater opportunity to attend private institutions, those private schools will still be able to pick and choose who they accept, PTC members point out.
TCU Political Science Professor Jim Riddlesperger said it is “easy to understand” the argument that forcing public schools to compete with private institutions would make public schools better. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
“Even if you give vouchers of a couple thousand dollars to a family, does that mean that they’re going to be able to send a child to a $15,000-per-year private school? The answer is, probably not,” Riddlesperger said. “And so how many people does it really impact to have a voucher system? The answer is, probably not that many.”
The school voucher concept is “complex,” he said, and “not really just a liberal-conservative issue. … The voucher system, we need to be careful not to overclaim what it can do, because it also has the potential to take some of the better students out of public schools, thereby diminishing the opportunities of the students who remain. It also has the potential of driving up the cost of public education when you take students out of public schools and give them vouchers to attend private schools. So there are all kinds of related issues on the voucher system.”
Luke said that PTC’s get-out-the-vote effort has been criticized by some who feel that the church leaders’ public advocacy is inappropriate.
“They say that about educators, too,” he said. “They say, ‘I don’t think teachers or school superintendents should be involved in politics. You’re getting paid with taxpayer dollars.’ And then the politician turns around and says whatever they want to say, and they’regetting paid with taxpayer dollars.”
With the well-being of millions of school-age children at stake, “for me to tell a minister, ‘I don’t think you should advocate for public schools on a policy level,’ it would be unconscionable not to advocate for children,” Luke said. “I think a minister that won’t advocate for children is derelict in his duty. Sometimes there have actually been political policies proposed to eliminate food programs for poor kids. So when there’s policy that literally takes food out of a kid’s mouth, you need to be down there, Pastor.”
Luke said that 93 percent of children are educated through public, not private, schools and that the public school system “impacts your life every single day,” he said. “We’re taking on all these social issues and all these education issues and trying to get kids ready to work, to go to college, to participate in our economy.”
Ryan Baer, pastor of Ridglea Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, speaks out against vouchers through letters to lawmakers and newspapers. He is particularly interested in seeing how the District 10 senate race will shake out. Incumbent Konni Burton is unchallenged on the Republican primary ballot, but there are two candidates for that office on the Democratic ticket – both are public ed supporters. Beverly Powell is a longtime Burleson school district trustee, and Allison Campolo’s mother supported the family on her teaching salary when Campolo’s attorney father represented clients pro bono.
In 2014, Burton, a former Tea Party activist, won the senate seat held by Wendy Davis before Davis’ unsuccessful gubernatorial run, winning first place in a five-candidate primary and then defeating Democrat Libby Willis in the November election. Considered in Republican circles to be a “rock star” (as one publication put it) at the time of her election, Burton voted for Senate Bill 3 last year, which Baer described as “the latest push toward a voucher bill.”
As for why there has been such a strong push among some lawmakers for school choice, Baer said, “As the old saying goes, follow the dollars and look at who is underwriting the re-election campaigns of these folks and look at what their interests are and what their particular worldviews are, and I think you will find very quickly that there are some very deep pockets in this state that make healthy contributions to these folks. Power comes in two forms: dollars and numbers. And I think we’re starting to see an awakening here on the numbers side, and I’m interested to see what the primary season brings.”
Baer feels bothered by the disinterest of some at a time when, in his view, public schools are in jeopardy.
“There seems to be an attitude of ‘Well, they’re not my kids,’ and I find that unconscionable,” he said. “That little third-grader that I’m helping with his math, he may someday be my CPA or my physician, and I need for him to receive the best education that money can buy, at taxpayer expense. That’s part of our social contract as Americans, as Texans. It’s vital to our shared collective future.”
But are kids receiving the best education that money can buy, or is a lot of that money going to overpaid superintendents and others? Those who favor government-funded school subsidies argue the latter.
A piece posted online last month by Empower Texans denounced the “bloated education bureaucracy” that lines the pockets of administrators and school vendors while teachers are underpaid and homeowners pay exorbitant property taxes. The editorial warned that “liberals are working to hijack the Republican primary at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers.”
Johnson feels that the bloated bureaucracy argument is “weak” and that the oligarchy is in Austin rather than in the state’s 1,100 school districts. He believes salaries for Texas superintendents are “extremely modest” – and he’s right, since they’re around the $154,717 national average – considering that most of these educators are in charge of budgets that are in the millions of dollars and oversee hundreds, if not thousands, of students and school district employees.
“Schools are already woefully under-funded,” he said. “You would have poor children going to public school and more affluent children going to private schools underwritten by the public treasury. So you’re going to continue to produce racial and economic apartheid, all the while dumbing down the electorate. Obviously, democracy depends on an informed public. And one of the reasons for the privatization of public education is the oligarchy doesn’t want the general populace being educated. That’s the result if a voucher bill passes.”
Johnson isn’t the first to suggest that the school voucher system has racial undertones.
Last summer, the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for American Progress described the school voucher system as having “racist origins.” Their report detailed how, more than six decades ago, officials in Prince Edward County in Virginia sought to avoid racial integration through vouchers. Voucher critics say the report illustrates the possible consequences of the Trump administration’s support for federal investment in the spread of voucher systems.
TCU’s Riddlesperger said that Texas is “a majority minority state” where Hispanic children have made up the largest student demographic for about the past five years, and that trend is only going to grow.
“The face of Texas politics is already changing and is changing rapidly – and that’s going to continue,” he said. “The single biggest issue in state politics in terms of funding is always public education. It’s kind of the core function of states. And the really weird thing is, a bunch of the funding for public education comes, not from the state, but from local independent school districts.”
As he navigates discord in the political arena, Baer is trying to set an example for his three sons on how to communicate with others effectively and respectfully when conflicts arise.
“Conflict is the means by which the best ideas can rise to the top,” he said. “And that’s part of what makes our democratic process, when it works, so beautiful. But how we respond to conflict tells a lot about who we are. We’ve lost our ability to vigorously debate, and everything has become instantly personal. I hold no personal ill will toward the governor or the lieutenant governor. As a matter of fact, I’ve tried to make a habit of praying for them, praying for their families, for their protection, for their guidance. Same thing for our president, for everyone who is tasked with the enormous responsibility of leading. I’ve discovered that when you’re praying for someone, it’s awfully hard to resent them.”
Luke said that he has dealt with contentious people many times at community meetings held by PTC across the state. He recalled a recent meeting in Central Texas during which a minister “disagreed in a little bit of an arrogant, contentious manner.”
What PTC members typically try to do in those situations, he said, “is be patient, be kind, and understand that that particular person just had a different opinion. We have to get to that place in our society where it’s OK to disagree with what’s being said and to express that, and that results in civil discourse, not name calling.”
Baer said he uses his pulpit routinely to remind his 400-member congregation about early voting and Election Day, just as he reminds them of other things that impact the community, such as when a new school year kicks off and school zone speed limits are again in effect. In his view, reminding his congregation to vote is part of being a community leader.
“I’m the grandson of a POW,” he said. “Every time I go to the ballot box, I think of the sacrifices he made.”
Baer offered an example of why every vote matters.
“One of our elders is former City Councilman Zim Zimmerman, who lost re-election last year,” he said. “There are about 100,000 registered voters in District 3 in Fort Worth, and I believe there were 7,000 votes cast, and [Zimmerman] lost by 600. And that pains me greatly.”
Baer was close in his recollection. The number of votes cast last year in the race between W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman and Brian Byrd was 8,034. Zimmerman netted 46 percent of the ballots cast to Byrd’s 54 percent, losing the seat by 686 votes.
Largent, the school superintendent hoping to oust Lang in next week’s primary, wrote in a 2016 online article commemorating “Make Education a Priority” month that Patrick was elected lieutenant governor in a 2014 runoff against David Dewhurst with the votes of just 3 percent of the state’s eligible voters. That means that 97 percent of Texas voters didn’tvote for him.
Riddlesperger believes that vouchers could be “the bathroom bill of the 2018 elections.”
Dan Patrick, he continued, “was kind of the father of that bill as well.”
However, Riddlesperger isn’t convinced there will be a big backlash against lawmakers simply over school vouchers.
“While voters may consider education policies when they cast their votes for legislators, that’s certainly not the only issue they’re going to be thinking about,” he said. “They’re going to be thinking about public transportation. They’re going to be thinking about their taxes. They’re going to be thinking about public parks and their maintenance, and so forth.”
The question may not be whether some voters will be focused on other issues besides public education but rather how many of the state’s more than 700,000 school employees and other public school supporters will turn out at the polls, possibly having the same kind of impact as Patrick’s 3 percent.
There seems to be concern that this may happen.
Last month, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion in which he questioned whether any “educational purpose” is served by school districts that promote or facilitate voting. This brought a halt to some school districts busing to the polls students who are old enough to vote. Shortly after Johnson’s community meeting at The Effie Center on Feb. 14, Paxton’s office announced that cease-and-desist letters had been sent to the Brazosport, Holliday, and Lewisville school districts because of activities that Paxton had determined amounted to “unlawful electioneering.”
The attorney general’s actions seemingly were in response to an initiative pushed last year to school districts across the state by Texas Educators Vote. It was a campaign that encouraged school boards to adopt resolutions promoting voting among school district employees and students. Emboldened by the January opinion, Empower Texans quickly kicked off its “ISD Whistleblower Project” through which letters were sent to school district employees, encouraging teachers to rat out their colleagues.
Field days, it seems, aren’t just for schools. They are also for social media.
That campaign resulted in a #blowingthewhistle backlash of tweets – thousands of them – from public education supporters who mocked Empower Texans while “blowing the whistle” on teachers who have performed selfless acts, such as providing lunch money for children whose accounts were empty.
The mockery continued when the organization’s General Counsel sent a letter to Splendor school district employees warning them that using school “recources” to transport students or employees to polling places would violate the law and stating that “the Texas Whistleblower Act protects pubic” – emphasis ours – “employees.”
But while that initiative has been viewed by many as laughable, it has also been interpreted as an effort to suppress the vote and intimidate teachers.
“They want low voter turnout so they can keep getting re-elected,” Luke said of some incumbents who have taken an unpopular stance on public education and other issues. “That’s personal self-interest at the expense of you and me, and we’re not going to put up with it. It’s just time. Some of these folks don’t realize that their days are numbered.”
U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Over Whether Texas Congressional and House Maps Discriminate
Further extending a drawn-out legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color.
The high court’s decision to take the case is a short-term win for Texas’ Republican leaders who, in an effort to preserve the maps in question, had appealed two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of the state’s maps. If the high court had declined to take the case, Texas would have been forced to redraw the maps to address several voting rights violations.
The Supreme Court’s decision to weigh the state’s appeal will further delay any redrawing efforts even after almost seven years of litigation between state attorneys and voting and minority rights groups that challenged the maps. It’s unclear when the court will schedule oral arguments in the case, which is formally known as Abbott v. Perez.
In ruling against the maps last year, a three-judge panel in San Antonio sided with the voting and minority rights groups who accused Republican lawmakers of discriminating against voters of color, who tend to vote for Democrats, in drawing the maps. The state has denied targeting voters by race and admitted instead to practicing partisan gerrymandering by overtly favoring Republicans in drawing the districts.
The panel specifically flagged two congressional districts and nine House districts in four counties as problematic. But the Supreme Court in September temporarily blocked the lower court rulings — and any efforts to redraw the maps — in two 5-4 decisions as it considered the appeal from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The San Antonio panel had ruled in August that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” And Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it.
On the House side, the panel ruled that Texas needed to address violations in Dallas, Nueces, Bell and Tarrant counties where it said lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the judges found that lawmakers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.
Citing the need to provide election administrators with clarity on district boundaries, the state had argued in legal briefs that the Supreme Court risked throwing “the Texas election deadlines into chaos” if it allowed the redrawing of the state’s maps to move forward prior to the March primary vote.
The minority rights groups suing the state had formally asked the high court to dismiss the state’s appeal. They argued that “the right to legal districts prevails” when choosing between delaying electoral deadlines and addressing “voters’ ongoing harm” under the current maps.
The state’s currents maps, which have been in place for the past three election cycles, were adopted by the Legislature in 2013. They’re largely based on temporary maps drawn by the three-judge panel in San Antonio amid legal wrangling over the maps lawmakers drew in 2011.
The 2011 maps, which the San Antonio judges also ruled were drawn to weaken the strength of Hispanic and black voters, never took effect. But the panel ruled that the intentional discrimination behind the 2011 maps carried over into the 2013 maps in places where district boundaries were unchanged.
“After six years in litigation, we welcome swift action from the highest court in the land,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat and chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case. “We are hopeful that the court will provide justice to voters and agree that discrimination will not be tolerated in our elections.”
In a Friday statement, Paxton applauded the Supreme Court’s decision and reiterated his outrage over the San Antonio panel’s decision to block the 2013 maps that had been drawn the lower court.
“The lower court’s decisions to invalidate parts of the maps it drew and adopted are inexplicable and indefensible,” Paxton said.
The high court did not act on the Texas Democratic Party’s request to revive a legal claim over partisan gerrymandering — a redistricting strategy that until recently was deemed acceptable. The high court last year heard arguments in a Wisconsin case over the limits of partisan gerrymandering and whether extreme practices can be deemed unconstitutional. A ruling in that case is pending. The court has also agreed to consider a partisan gerrymandering case out of Maryland.
Hanging over the Texas case is the possibility that the state will be placed back under federal oversight of its elections laws.
A barrage of court rulings last year — including the two redistricting rulings handed down last August — have forced Texas leaders to confront whether they strayed too far in enacting voting laws found to have disproportionately burdened people of color.
For decades under the Voting Rights Act, Texas was a on a list of states needing the federal government’s approval of election laws, a safeguard for minority voting rights called preclearance. The Supreme Court wiped clean that list in 2013, but it left open the possibility that future, intentional discrimination could lead to a return to preclearance.
Read related Tribune coverage:
- In separate orders issued Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of the state’s congressional and House maps where lawmakers were found to have discriminated against voters of color, putting on hold efforts to redraw those maps. [Full story]
- As part of a weeklong trial, the state’s legal foes are turning their attention to lawmakers’ actions in 2013 in an effort to finally resolve years-long litigation over Texas’ political maps. [Full story]
- A barrage of court rulings has forced Texas leaders to confront whether they strayed too far in enacting voting laws found to have disproportionately burdened minorities. [Full story]
School Vouchers a Key Motivator for Opposition to GOP Incumbents Who Did Not Sign Speaker Commitment Forms
Scott Braddock – January 3, 2018
Supporters of failed anti-teachers’ union legislation vow to spend big to remake GOP caucus; backlash from educators could moderate Senate leadership’s tone in the primary.
There was so much jubilation from some in 2017 over the demise of the “bathroom bill” that one could be forgiven for forgetting Texas adopted an Arizona-style immigration crackdown and Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping anti-abortion law of more significance than the one filibustered by then-Sen. Wendy Davis in 2013. Both face ongoing court challenges but you get the idea: Victories for liberals or even “moderates” in Texas were as few and far between as ever last year.
Speaker Joe Straus has been widely lauded for the fact that his team, primarily retiring House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, killed gender-based restroom restrictions. But that is now in the past and, as some veteran lobbyists have said, will only be a footnote in Texas political history by this time next year.
As for the immediate future, the way in which a supermajority in the House was galvanized against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is instructive when it comes to how some key battles may play out in primaries, the general, and the 2019 session.
Instead of choosing to solely be a roadblock for Gov. Abbott’s special session agenda, Straus organized the members around support for public education. The numbers were on Straus’ side and Patrick knew it, as evidenced by the Lite Guv’s attempt to assert his credibility on public education heading into the special session and, more recently, in challenging Straus to make House appointments to the newly-created School Finance Commission.
The House’s failed plan to add $1.8 billion into the school finance system received 132 “yes” votes when it first passed in the lower chamber in ‘17. Vouchers were soundly rejected with overwhelming bipartisan opposition 103 to 44 even as Patrick and Abbott rallied for “school choice” on the south steps of the Texas Capitol.
Rural Republicans were unimpressed as Patrick exclaimed “Give us a vote, House!”
“You won’t like the vote,” replied Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, on social media.
Since then, Lt. Gov. Patrick has again been speaking with authority on education as if he were still the Senate Education Committee Chairman. One key advantage Patrick always had in legislative battles with Straus is his experience as a chairman.
Straus, first elected to the preside over the House when he was a sophomore, never held the gavel in a committee room. That’s why Straus so often had to lean heavily on his chairmen for tactical help rather than give them orders, which isn’t his style anyway. Even solid committee work on major legislation did not always translate into a firm plan on the House floor. That’s a big part of the reason for the meltdown during the debate of Senate Bill 4.
But Straus’ focus on public education in the special session provided many GOP House members with something to legitimately support when they otherwise would have been quite squeamish at the prospect of being perceived as nothing more than speed bumps for Abbott and Patrick’s agenda.
Now that Straus is on his way out and the campaign season is on its way in, Patrick is questioning the Speaker’s credibility on public education and a top Senate lieutenant is challenging whether education groups can organize ahead of the GOP primary.
“If the speaker is truly serious about working on this issue, he will announce his appointments soon,” Patrick said in the hours before Straus made his picks for the School Finance Commission. “This will be the first school reform commission since the Perot Commission in 1984,” Patrick said. Patrick’s office also suggested he would pressure Gov. Abbott to convene the commission without House appointees if it came to that.
Meantime Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, is asking the Office of the Attorney General to weigh in with an opinion on whether it is an improper use of public funds for school districts to provide transportation to polling places for employees and students.
Sen. Bettencourt also said he was “alarmed” that at least 100 school boards have adopted this resolution encouraging administrators to create “a culture of voting” and “to encourage maximum participation by District employees and eligible students in the elections process.”
No one here at Buzz Central is naïve enough to think support for public education in GOP primaries is going to trump “issues” like “keeping men out of women’s rooms” or how the next speaker is chosen. But it is worth remembering “school choice” is the prime motivator of the Texas Public Policy Foundation board members who spent heavily against the Straus team in 2016. Support for school vouchers was the reason TPPF was founded by Jim Leininger years ago.
Some of that group has now been reconstituted as the New Leadership PAC.
After Straus and Cook announced their retirements, the PAC promised to supply $100,000 a piece to challengers who would take on “core Straus acolytes.” The PAC hasn’t responded to requests for comment about which candidates will be beneficiaries of their largesse.
That PAC’s leadership, including businessman Don Dyer of Austin, have been among the biggest supporters of anti-union legislation targeting teachers’ groups while exempting police and fire unions.
Straus’ team killed that bill for two sessions in a row as Dyer’s business partner in Houston, Brent Southwell, threatened to unseat “RINOs” in the legislature who stood in the way including Chairman Cook. “Our coalition will never again trust the fate of this initiative in the hand of current House leaders,” an angry Southwell wrote to Chairman Cook after the anti-union bill went down in flames in 2015.
Those anti-teachers’ union pro-school voucher activists now say they are willing to put their dollars where their mouths are as they look to remake the House GOP membership such that the caucus would unite behind a speaker who will pledge to fully support the Republican Party of Texas platform.
It will be a heavy lift.
More than 30 GOP incumbents have not signed the RPT’s speaker commitment form. And no matter what happens in the GOP caucus process, there is of course no mechanism for enforcing party discipline when members hit the floor to choose a presiding officer.
Pro-public education GOP candidates including Scott Milder, who’s taking on Patrick, and Sen. Joan Huffman’s challenger Fort Bend ISD Board President Kristin Tassin have very steep hills to climb. Their presence in those races, however, could moderate Senate leadership’s tone on education through the primary as Patrick skillfully walks the line between voicing support for teachers while mollifying voucher supporters.
The Janesville School Board wants taxpayers to know how much of their money is going to voucher schools.
On Tuesday, the board passed a resolution asking state legislators to support Assembly Bill 267 and Senate Bill 183, which would require tax bills to include the amount of local tax dollars supporting voucher schools.
In the case of the Janesville School District, that amount is $187,180, the resolution said.
The bill is not expected to make it out of committee, said Bob Meyer, who works for state Rep. Dana Wachs, the Eau Claire Democrat who authored the bill.
But that doesn’t matter to school board President Kevin Murray.
Lawmakers won’t know the concerns of their constituents unless they voice them, Murray said.
“If you’re not involved in politics, you’re not involved in politics,” Murray said, meaning it’s important for school boards to raise the issue if others don’t.
School boards in Eau Claire, Holmen, Stevens Point, Wausau, South Milwaukee, Holmen, Baraboo and Merrill have passed similar resolutions.
Dan Rossmiller, government relations director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, explained why the issue has taken on greater importance.
Previously, money for voucher school students came from the state and was, in theory, separate from public school funding decisions. But starting in the 2015-16 school year, money for new voucher school students had to come from the students’ home districts. The Racine School District lost nearly $14 million because of the change, Rossmiller said.
Local school districts can raise taxes above state-imposed revenue caps to get that money back, but the caps limit the amount of money districts can raise through taxes.
“They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Rossmiller said.
Most voters won’t be aware of how much of their school taxes supports the vouchers. They’ll just know their taxes have gone up, Rossmiller said.
Here’s the other catch: Because of the way the school funding system works, if school districts decide not to raise taxes to make up the loss, they could lose even more aid money the next year, Rossmiller said.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards plans to bring a similar resolution to its annual meeting next month. The association supports the idea of noting voucher school money on tax bills. The group wants tax bills to show how much school taxes rose because of voucher schools.
The resolution passed by the Janesville School Board used additional information from the association to make its case, including:
— Payments to voucher schools will range from $7,757 to $8,403 per student in 2018-19. Even with all of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed increases, some public schools will receive as much as $1,700 less per student, at $6,703.
— The 2017-18 voucher amount is $7,323 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and $7,969 for students in grades nine to 12.
— Statewide, school districts had to raise taxes by $25 million in the 2016-17 school year to make up for voucher school tuition losses. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau expects that to increase to about $37 million in 2017-18 and $47 million in 2018-19.
It’s unclear if the school board resolutions will help advance the bill.
“There’s not one Republican co-sponsor on the bill,” Meyer said. “Given past history, we’re not overly confident it will be taken up.”
The Janesville resolution was sponsored by board member Jim Millard and co-sponsored by board members Ben Dobson and Carla Quirk.
Coalition for Public Schools invites you to view and share via social media and email this powerful video featuring Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent John Kuhn about the need for adequate funding for public schools.
See the video at https://vimeo.com/223637669
We are trying to get 1,000,000 views of this video, so please share with everyone you know!
If you don’t know who Charles Foster Johnson is, here’s your chance to get acquainted. Johnson is the executive director of the nonprofit organization called Pastors for Texas Children, an independent ministry and outreach group that comprises nearly 2,000 pastors and church leaders from across Texas. Its mission, according to its website:
To provide “wrap-around” care and ministry to local schools, principals, teachers, staff and schoolchildren, and to advocate for children by supporting our free, public education system, to promote social justice for children, and to advance legislation that enriches Texas children, families, and communities.
Johnson and his organization come at their mission in a way that is very different from that of other Christian faith leaders who support the use of public funds for private and religious education through voucher and similar programs. He doesn’t, and he has been a powerful voice in support of traditional public education in Texas. And that has made him a target for people who oppose his views, which Johnson addressed in a post this month on the organization’s website:
We believe public education is a provision of God’s common good. Our faith leads us to this conviction. All children, regardless of race, religion, or economics, deserves a quality education. It is the great democratic equalizer in American life. . . .
We are pastors and congregational leaders trying to make Texas a better place for everyone.
So, we must confess that we are taken aback by the acrimony and bitterness on the part of some public policy stakeholders toward our mission. We have been accused of being “in the pocket of the teacher unions” (we do not have unions in Texas), a “front organization for the Democratic Party” (most of our pastors are from rural communities well associated with the Republican Party), and “fake pastors” by a sitting member of the House of Representatives (overworked pastors know all too well how “real” our calling is.)
Now we are being labeled as “corrupt pastors” and a “fraud” by a group active in Texas policy debates.
We have not responded to these attacks. We are seasoned pastors not unaccustomed to criticism. Our Lord counseled his disciples, “Beware when all speak well of you.” Last we checked, our 8500 public schools, 5.4 million Texas schoolchildren, and 750,000 plus public school teachers and employees need us focused on them — not on a few naysayers.
But, we are compelled by the truth of God and the integrity of God’s mission for us now to confront what is a ludicrous lie. Can we not have a debate about school funding, vouchers, our social contract, and the public trust without this sophomoric name-calling?
We are simply congregational leaders trying to protect and preserve public education for all Texas children, as the Texas Constitution in Article 7, Section 1 clearly spells out: “It shall be the duty of the Legislature of this State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” It is to this constitutional conservatism that we as faith leaders are committed.
Here is an interview with Johnson conducted by Jennifer Berkshire, the education editor at AlterNet and the co-host of a biweekly podcast on education in the time of President Trump. Berkshire worked for six years editing a newspaper for the American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts. This piece first appeared on AlterNet and Berkshire gave The Washington Post permission to publish it.
After 24 Years, Vouchers Are Still Not the Answer for Texas Public Schools
As the 85th session of the Texas legislature winds down, vouchers have once again been advanced by the Senate and repudiated by the House. We have to wonder: How many more times will we have this conversation? For the past 12 sessions (that’s 24 years!), those who want to privatize public schools have been pushing some form of voucher program. Lately, they have been using creative names like “tuition tax credit,” “insurance premium tax credit,” and “education savings account.” Earlier in the current legislative session, one of the members of the Senate Education Committee chided a concerned citizen for using the term “voucher” to describe Senate Bill 3, which proposes a combination of an insurance premium tax credit and an education savings account. “Why do you keep using the term “voucher”?” the senator wanted to know. “Because,” replied the testifier, “it takes public funds and sends them to private entities for educational purposes. That’s the definition of a voucher.”
As the House seems to understand and the Senate does not, a voucher by another name is still a voucher. Earlier this session, voucher supporter Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick challenged the House to “give an up or down vote” on vouchers. The House did just that, but not in the way that Patrick intended. They passed an amendment that disallows the expenditure of public funds for private education, sending a clear message to the Senate and Patrick regarding exactly how the House feels about vouchers.
The argument from those who support vouchers is always “Give us school choice!” But they already have school choice; the only difference is that now they want taxpayers to foot the bill. Increasingly, school choice is available within public schools. Many public schools now have creative career and technology programs that can compete on a worldwide basis along with district- and state-implemented mechanisms to allow students and parents a variety of options (in-district and inter-district transfers, public education grants, etc.). In schools where choice is more limited, the culprit is often poor state funding exacerbated by a depressed local economy. As the state’s share of public school funding continues to drop below 40 percent, these communities struggle to meet the daily social and educational demands of students, often finding themselves without the resources to create more robust public school choice programs.
Vouchers rob the public trust to advance private enterprise. If school choice advocates really want educational options, they should focus instead on providing adequate funding for communities whose schools suffer from a depressed economy. One way to do this is to simply keep the tax money that is collected for public schools in the public school system. As property values and taxes increase in local communities, the state increasingly shifts the burden for public education expenditures to local taxpayers. In fact, the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities estimates that the state “repurposed” more than $1.8 billion in the 85th legislature in this manner.
Before the next legislative session, public education advocates should work hard to do two things. First, vote for senators (several are up for election in 2018) and representatives who support public schools. Second, work diligently to raise awareness for the idea that tax money raised for public schools should stay in public schools. Who knows, with the extra money, maybe we can even enhance school choice programs within our public schools.
The information in this article was current as of press time. Please check with TeachtheVote.org for the most up-to-date information on voucher bills and the rest of ATPE’s legislative agenda.
Coalition for Public Schools and Friends Pen Letter to Texas Senators
House Bill 21 (HB 21), the school funding bill which had passed out of the House, went before the Senate Education Committee last week. At that hearing, the bill was substituted with Committee Substitute House Bill 21 (CSHB 21) which significantly altered the amount of dollars for school districts and added a Education Savings Account voucher for special needs (including 504) students on the bill.
On May 15th, several organizations met in Austin to discuss a unified response. As a result of the meeting on Monday, the Coalition for Public Schools was charged with drafting a letter to Senators. That letter was delivered by hand and electronically to all members of the Senate yesterday. CSHB 21 is on the Intent Calendar for May 18 and could come to the floor of the Senate on Friday, May 19.
Today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick indicated that he is ready to have multiple special sessions in order to get his bathroom bill and vouchers for special needs students. This afternoon, Speaker of the House Joe Straus issued the following statement:
“I was encouraged by much of what Governor Patrick said today. I was especially glad to hear that Governor Patrick wants to start passing bills that are priorities of the House, such as mental health reforms, fixing the broken A-F rating system and cybersecurity. These are not poll-tested priorities, but they can make a very real difference in Texans’ lives. I am grateful that the Senate will work with us to address them.
“Budget negotiations are going well but are far from finished. The Senate has indicated a willingness to use part of the $12 billion Economic Stabilization Fund. In addition, the two sides, along with the Comptroller’s office, are working through concerns about the use of Proposition 7 funds to certify the budget. I’m optimistic that we will produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget. I appreciate the work of the Senate conferees and Governor Patrick on these issues.
“As I said in my letter to Governor Patrick, the House has worked diligently to pass priorities that are important to him. Senate Bill 2 has been scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House tomorrow. The House has already acted on a number of issues that are important to the Lieutenant Governor and will continue to do so. I’m glad that the Senate is beginning to extend the same courtesy.
“Governor Patrick talked about the importance of property tax relief. The Texas House is also concerned about property taxes, which is why we approved House Bill 21 to address the major cause of rising property-tax bills: local school taxes. As it passed the House, this legislation would begin to reduce our reliance on local property taxes in funding education. Nobody can claim to be serious about property-tax relief while consistently reducing the state’s share of education funding. The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour. The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April. The House is also serious about providing extra and targeted assistance for students with disabilities. This is why we put extra money in House Bill 21 to help students with dyslexia. We also overwhelmingly passed House Bill 23 to provide grants for schools that work with students who have autism and other disabilities. The Lieutenant Governor has not referred that bill to a Senate committee.
“Governor Patrick’s threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope that he reconsiders. The best way to end this session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want. But we can come together on many issues and end this session knowing that we have positively addressed priorities that matter to Texas.”
Never has it been clearer that we are in all-out pitched battle over the future of our public schools. The future of over 5.3 million school children are being jeopardized by the hubris of those who want to privatize our public schools and funnel taxpayer funds to private interests, all the while draining money away from our public schools – the very institution which helps promote social mobility, propagate our best interests, and preserve our democracy.
You can do two things: (1) Have as many people as you can call your Senator today to oppose the committee substitute to HB 21 and; (2) have those people also call your Representative and tell them to stand with Speaker Straus regarding his opposition to vouchers and his support for more funding for public schools.
Tell Texas Senators NO Vouchers!
SB 3 is a school voucher program in disguise. Charles Luke, a former Superintendent and the current Executive Director of the Coalition for Public Schools recently said, “A voucher by another name is still a thorn in the side of taxpayers whose tax dollars would be diverted from the public trust to private schools with little or no accountability.”
Under SB 3 all Texas children are eligible for an educational savings account (ESA) if they leave a public or charter school, or are entering school for the first time. Families with income double the reduced lunch amount will be eligible for $5,836 toward private or religious school tuition, or homeschooling expenses such as online courses, textbooks, curricula, tutors and purchase of computers. Families under 2 times the reduced lunch threshold would collect $7,295 per child per year, and a disabled student $8,754 per child per year, regardless of disability or family income.
The bill would also implement a tax credit scholarship program, on top of ESAs.
SB3 could quickly “mushroom into a $3.2 billion a year transfer of state funds to private schools and vendors,” with Texas taxpayers on the hook.
A new organization with deep ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has formed in Texas specifically to lobby for SB 3. Texans for Educational Opportunity (TEO) is led by Randan Steinhauser. Before moving to Austin, Texas in 2013, Steinhauser was based in Washington, D.C. and traveled the country pushing vouchers and school choice as the National Director of External Affairs for DeVos’s American Federation of Children.
Texans have been fighting back against the push for vouchers for decades. Tell your state senator that he/she needs to push back against the privatization agenda coming from DeVos and Washington, D.C..
Are education savings accounts the new private school vouchers?
Public school supporters want to keep state money out of the pockets of private schools, although the idea — popular among conservatives — is gaining traction months before the legislative session.
Advocates of the so-called school choice movement want the state to give each Texas student who no longer wants to attend public school an education savings account. The student would use the account to pay for other education options, such as private schools, tutors, curriculum for home schooling or college credit courses, giving students more choice in their education, according to proponents.
Public school supporters aren’t buying it. They say education savings accounts are masquerading as private school vouchers, diverting money from cash-strapped school districts to private schools without holding them to the same standard of accountability.
“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You can call a voucher something else, but it’s still a voucher,” said Charles Luke of the Coalition for Public Schools, which opposes using public funds to support private and religious schools. “We need to invest in our community schools rather than create a completely separate, parallel system and expand government.”
About the Louisiana voucher system: Where failure really is an option
On May 19, 2016, Louisiana citizen James Finney submitted a public records request for data concerning student voucher applications submitted by the initial deadline of February 27, 2016, for the 2016-17 school year.
Louisiana’s voucher program has a poor reputation. In January 2016, the Brookings Institute published a piece entitled, “When Winners Are Losers: Private School Vouchers in Louisiana.” In February 2016, US News and World Report published an article entitled, “Evidence Mounts Against Louisiana Voucher Program.” In March 2016, Louisiana state superintendent John White was called out by state board members for promoting a report that said vouchers saved money in the face of testimony before the board that they actually cost more.
Thomas Ratliff, Vice Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education released the following information on July 24, 2016. In the release, Ratliff clearly exposes the problems with the education savings account (ESA) voucher programs being proposed by several Texas organizations.
EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT = GIGANTIC ENTITLEMENT PROGRAM
When I read about the proposed “education savings account” idea being proposed, I cannot help but think of one word – entitlement. Is this an idea from President Obama? Nope. This is an idea from limited government conservative types.
Let’s be clear. There are no “savings” in these accounts, because the recipient never would have paid enough taxes into the account in the first place. There are only “donations” or “entitlements” in these accounts. Let’s dig in to the details.
Texas spends around $8,500 per student per year in public schools. In order for a family to pay enough taxes to fully pay that cost, the family would have to live in a $700,000 house or generate $125,000 in sales taxable transactions (or a combination of the two) PER YEAR, PER CHILD. At these numbers, there are very, very few Texas families paying their own way. So whose money are they saving? Yours? The elderly couple with no kids in school? The local businesses in their hometown? Yes, all of those are contributing to the “savings” account that this family can take wherever they want, apparently with no questions asked or accountability for the money.
So, how much is all of this going to cost? The proponents of this plan want to make it available to families to spend on a variety of things, including private school tuition or homeschool curriculum. There are currently 600,000 students who fall into those two categories alone. Therefore, if the “savings account entitlement” is $6,000 per student, the total would be approximately $3.2 billion per year, or $6.4 billion per state budget. Keep in mind, that NONE of these students get funding from the state budget today.
If that total figure isn’t shocking enough, let me explain how it will get even bigger. What about the parents who, when they learn they can make an extra $500/mo. per month per kid, pull their kids out of public school and claim they will be home schooled – then simply keep the money without delivering the education. It will happen. You can count on it. Those parents who are already disengaged from their child’s education would have no problem simply putting $500/mo. from each child’s education in their pocket.
This idea takes the word entitlement to a whole new level for Texas. It is nothing more than a huge transfer of wealth with no way to control the price tag.
It should be very simple. The Texas Constitution requires the state to provide a system of public free schools. If a family chooses not to use it, they do not have the entitlement to take their neighbor’s money to the school of their choice.
On negative effects of vouchers
by Mark Dynarski
Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.
Special education-specific vouchers fail to include all students with disabilities
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. says in a new report that special education-specific voucher programs often fail to include all students with disabilities. The report also says that most states funding voucher programs don’t allow students with disabilities to retain their full rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Speaker Straus Instructs House to Consider Additional School Funding Reforms
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called on two House committees Thursday to jointly study key aspects of the state’s school finance system and make recommendations before the next legislative session.
Speaker Straus gave two new interim charges to the House Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Public Education. The charges follow a recent Texas Supreme Court opinion that the state’s education finance system, while constitutional, is “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.” They also build on Speaker Straus’ earlier calls for the Public Education Committee to study the Cost of Education Index and school districts’ facility needs.
“We can improve educational quality while also making our school finance system more efficient,” said Speaker Straus, R-San Antonio. “Ignoring some of the problems in our current system will only make them worse. School finance reform never comes quickly or easily, which is why this work needs to continue sooner rather than later.”
Texas Supreme Court Upholds School Funding System
The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued a ruling upholding the state’s public school funding system as constitutional, while also urging state lawmakers to implement “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”
But without a court order directing the Legislature to fix specific provisions in the system, school groups worry that lawmakers will either do nothing or something outside the box.
“Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements,” Justice Don Willett wrote in the court’s 100-page opinion, which asserts that the court’s “lenient standard of review in this policy-laden area counsels modesty.”
Texas primary election results
Super Tuesday was March 1, 2016 and with over three million people voting statewide, it was one of the biggest turnouts ever. The Coalition for Public Schools watched the elections closely. Austin based HillCo Partners provided the following report:
Railroad Commission Runoffs
Republican – Gary Gates (28.4%) and Wayne Christian (19.8%).
Democrat – Grady Yarbrough (40%) and Cody Garrett (35.1%).
State Board of Education Runoffs
SBOE District 6 Democrat Runoff – Jasmine L. Jenkins (44%) and R. Dakota Carter (33%) will face each other in a runoff and the winner from that runoff will go on to face incumbent Donna Bahorich (R) during the November General Election.* [with 85.8% of precincts reporting]
SBOE District 9 Republican Runoff (open seat) – Mary Lou Bruner (48.5%) and Keven M. Ellis (31.1%) will face each other in a runoff. The winner will face Amanda Rudolph (D) in the November General Election for the open seat.
Legislative Incumbents Defeated or in Runoffs
4 legislative incumbents were defeated:
HD 4 – Lance Gooden captured 51.78% of the votes over incumbent Stuart Spitzer (48.21%)
HD 20 – Terry Wilson captured 54.25% of the votes over incumbent Marsha Farney (45.74%)
HD 55 – Hugh D. Shine received 50.30% of the votes over incumbent Molly White (49.69%)
HD 150 – Valoree Swanson garnered 52.46% of the votes over incumbent Debbie Riddle (39.64%)
3 legislative incumbents will go to runoffs:
HD 73 – Incumbent Doug Miller (43.47%) and Kyle Biedermann (39.84%)
HD 128 – Incumbent Wayne Smith (43.57%) and Briscoe Cain (48.01%)
HD 27 – Incumbent Ron Reynolds (48.46%) and Angelique Bartholomew (24.11%)
OPEN SEAT LEGISLATIVE RUNOFFS
HD 120 – Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (26.20%) and Mario Salas (23.21%)
HD 139 – Kimberly Willis (31.92%) and Jarvis D. Johnson (28.72%)
SD 1 – Bryan Hughes (47.98%) and David Simpson (21.26%)
SD 24 – Susan King (27.22%) and Dawn Buckingham (24.76%)
HD 5 – Cole Hefner (45.95%) and Jay Misenheimer (27.10%)
HD 18 – Keith Strahan (28.24%) and Ernest Bailes (25.92%)
HD 33 – John Keating (37.63%) and Justin Holland (32.90%)
HD 54 – Scott Cosper (41.71%) and Austin Ruiz (36.87%)
HD 64 – Lynn Stucky (42.25%) and Read King (30%)
May 24 will be will be the Primary Runoff Election with early voting for the runoffs occurring May 16-20.
For a full list of results go to: http://elections.texastribune.org/2016/primary-election-results/
The Coalition for Public Schools urges you to go vote!
As I’m sure you all know, election season is upon us. Early voting in Texas is taking place through Friday, February 26th and Election Day will be this coming Tuesday, March 1st .
With most of the races being determined in the primary elections in Texas, your vote is critical to ensuring that our public school children have what they need to be successful.
And please urge all educators to vote! We cannot imagine a better example for schoolchildren then to see their teacher proudly wear that sticker, “I’ve voted!” More information can be found at www.texaseducatorsvote.com
Again, we urge you to go vote this coming Tuesday, March 1st. You can find out where to vote at: http://www.votetexas.gov/voting/where/ .
Nevada Supreme Court will review voucher program
by Diane Ravitch
The Education Law Center reports that the Nevada Supreme Court will review a lower court decision that enjoined the state’s new voucher program. Nevada’s legislators enacted the most sweeping voucher program in the nation, despite the fact that the state constitution says unequivocally that public money appropriated by the legislature is to be used only for public schools. Now, we will learn whether conservatives are serious when they claim to believe in a “strict” interpretation of the federal and state constitutions. Even as conservatives celebrate the late Justice Antonin Scalia for his “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution and laws, conservatives in states like Nevada are twisting and ignoring their state constitution to destroy public education. The same thing happened in Indiana, where the state constitution was written to prevent public funding of religious schools. The court, dominated by conservatives, found a way around the clear words of the state constitution to allow the new voucher program to proceed. At the very least, they could call a referendum to change the state constitution, but they didn’t and they won’t. That might lead to a loss, as it has for every voucher referendum. Original language be damned.
Read the rest of the story by clicking here.
Dr. Charles Luke speaks at Texas Public Policy Foundation conference
Dr. Charles Luke, the Coordinator for the Coalition for Public Schools spoke at the Texas Public Policy Foundation conference in January. Listen to his speech about the value of our public schools and why vouchers don’t work.
When winners are losers: Private school vouchers in Louisiana
This month’s Powerball winners collected $1.6 billion, but not all lotteries turn out well for winners. In Louisiana, students who won a lottery for tuition scholarships to private schools wound up with worse academic performance than their peers who were lucky enough to lose the lottery.[i]
The affected students had won a voucher to attend, at no cost, a private school in Louisiana. Nineteen states have such voucher programs, with Louisiana’s the fifth-largest in the country. The vouchers, averaging $5,311 per student, must be accepted as full tuition at the private schools that participate in the program; schools are not allowed to ask students to “top-up” their vouchers if the school has a higher sticker price. Further, schools can’t pick and choose among the voucher winners. Instead, they have to take any student who holds a voucher.[ii]
School Choice: What the research says
This week is the National School Choice Week. But what does choice really mean? Where does choice exist? And most importantly, what does it do for student achievement?
As one of the most touted education reform strategies, let’s take an unbiased look at what choices are and what research says about their effectiveness. After all, what parents and communities want mostly are good schools. And “choice” is no guarantee for good schools. As the Center for Public Education pointed out in its report, school choices work for some students sometimes, are worse for some students sometimes, and are usually no better or worse than traditional public schools.
You might also be surprised to find out that parents overwhelmingly choose to send their children to the neighborhood public school, and that more students are enrolled in a choice school within the public school system than outside of it.
Some reality checks on choice
- A relatively small percentage of school-aged children are enrolled in schools of choice: 16 percent in public schools of choice, 13 percent in non-public schools of choice.
- Nearly 90 percent of children attend public schools, a percentage that has remained constant for 40 years.
- Public schools offer choice programs including magnet and charter schools, inter- and intra-district transfer, etc.
- The national on-time high school graduation rate in public schools is at all-time high.
- About three-fourths of charter schools performed about the same as or worse than traditional public schools.
- Private school vouchers and tuition tax credits (funded by tax dollars) have no conclusive evidence of effectiveness.
Check out the entire report School Choice: What the Research Says .
Abbott names next education commissioner
From The Texas Tribune – Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday appointed Dallas Independent School District Trustee Mike Morath as the state’s next education commissioner, describing him as “a proven education reformer.”
Morath, chairman of Morath Investments, has served on the Dallas school board since 2011. A vocal school-choice proponent, he pushed for a controversial — and, for now, scrapped — “home rule” policy that would have allowed the Dallas school district to escape state control.
He will succeed Michael Williams as head of the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the state’s more than 1,200 school districts, including charters. Williams, appointed by then-Gov.Rick Perry in 2012, is stepping down Jan. 1.
It is the second leadership post to which Abbott has appointed Morath in recent weeks, although the latest will trump the first. Last month, Abbott picked the apparently avid mountain climber to head a new legislative commission that will recommend changes to the state’s method of student assessment and school accountability. Abbott will have to appoint someone else to head the 15-member Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which must make recommendations by Sept. 1.
Michael Williams stepping down as Texas Education Agency chief
Michael Williams says after years of working Austin — guiding the Texas Education Agency and serving on the Texas Railroad Commission — it’s time to come home.
“During the course of my career in public service, I have held two statewide positions since 1999,” Williams said in a resignation letter submitted Thursday to Gov. Greg Abbott. “Both of those are based in Austin.
“While carrying out my responsibilities, I have kept my house in Arlington and managed to maintain a long-distance partnership with my wife,” he wrote. “But after more than 16 years of weekend commuting, I feel it is finally time to simply head home.”
Williams said he will step down from his post as Commissioner of Education on Jan. 1.
Abbott thanked Williams for his service.
“Commissioner Williams is a public servant dedicated to elevating our state’s education system to be the best in the nation,” Abbott said. “I am grateful for his leadership and steadfast advocacy on behalf of our students, and I wish him the best of luck in all future endeavors.”
The Wrong School Choice – Nevada’s New School Voucher Law Will Make Inequality Worse
By David Osborne – July 6, 2015 – US News and World Report
I’m struggling to understand an intellectual disconnect of the first order.
Nearly everyone involved in education reform wrings their hands about the achievement gaps between poor and nonpoor, between white and minority students. And most Americans are increasingly disturbed about widening inequality of income and wealth.
Yet when Nevada enacted the nation’s first law last month creating almost universal access to vouchers (technically, education savings accounts, or ESAs), few reformers pointed out that it would undermine equal opportunity. Dozens of bloggers weighed in; the Fordham Institute even invited 14 of them to comment. And not one of the 14 mentioned that the new bill would make access to quality education less equal than it is today.
Read entire article here.
Brief Summary – Texas 84th Legislature
The 84th Legislative Session gaveled out on June 1 adjourning Sine Die. During the 84th Session there were a total of 6,276 House and Senate bills filed and a total of 1,323 bills were passed (not including resolutions). To further break down the statistics there were 819 House bills passed (a 12% increase from the last regular session) and 504 Senate bills passed (a 29% decrease from last session).
The final deadline of the 84th Session was the last day the Governor can sign or veto bills passed during the regular session – June 21. Governor Abbott ended up vetoing 42 bills from the 84th Regular Session not including line item vetoes.
Below is a review of the bills vetoed by the Governor. Additionally, click on the following links for the list of bills signed, vetoed or filed with a signature (including HCRs and SCRs):
- Signed by Governor(1,202) – signature statements
- Filed Without Signature by Governor(162)
- Vetoed by Governor(42) – veto statements
- Line item vetoesin HB 1 and HB 2
No voucher bills or voucher-type bills passed this legislative session. SB 4 – a tax credit voucher bill – did pass the Senate but died in the House.
Education – For the 2016-17 biennium, public education saw enrollment growth funded and additional $1.5B in the Foundation School Program (FSP) over current law which includes: $200M from HB 7 addressing fractional funding; $55.5M for the Instructional Facilities Allotment to provide tax relief for property-poor districts issuing bonds for local facility needs; and $47.5M for the New Instructional Facilities Allotment to provide start-up funds for new district and charter school campuses.
Tax Relief – An increase in homestead exemptions ($1.2B) and franchise tax relief ($2.6B) will result in $3.8B tax relief. Those two bills combined with other tax relief bill passed during session, resulted in the final total for the 84th Session of providing over $4B in tax relief.
School Voucher Bills Under Scrutiny
The Senate Public Education Committee is considering three bills that would allow for state-funded school vouchers. It’s something that’s drawn the ire of the the Coalition for Public Schools. The group sent the following letter to the Committee Chairman Senator Larry Taylor: See the entire article here …
Texas Lawmakers Wrangle a Herd of Education Bills
Charles A. Luke, the coordinator for the Austin-based Coalition for Public Schools, which supports higher spending on K-12 and opposes private school choice programs, said the $130 million plan from GOP Rep. Dan Huberty to expand kindergarten (an idea backed by Gov. Abbott) making its way through the state House of Representatives is a good step forward. But the coalition, which includes associations representing the state’s local school boards and administrators, believes more resources need to be provided to the overall K-12 system, instead of chipping away at traditional public schools through what Mr. Luke called “privatization” attempts. Read the entire Education Week article here…
Online Schools Would Get Big Bucks via “Virtual Vouchers”
On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 894 ,chaired by Chairman Taylor, which would remove limits on expansion of full-time, online schools in Texas. SB 894 would provide what amounts to “virtual vouchers” for students who have been enrolled in private schools or have been home-schooled, and who have been enrolled in a public school. This specific bill would also push for full-time online schooling all the way down to kindergarten; current law funds such online programs only for students in the third grade and above. Read the entire article here …
Four Things In Texas Education To Watch This Legislative Session
National Public Radio’s Laura Isensee interviewed Dr. Charles Luke of the Coalition for Public Schools regarding the 84th Texas legislative session. Click here to read the article and to hear the interview via Soundcloud.
Coalition for Public Schools Blasts First Voucher Bill of the 2015 Session
Sen. Donna Campbell, a San Antonio Republican, has pre-filed the first private-school voucher bill of the 2015 session, SB 276. Sen. Campbell timed the pre-filing of her bill to coincide with issuance of a pro-voucher report by a pro-voucher advocacy group in Austin. Her bill was greeted with a hard-hitting critique by the Coalition for Public Schools, in which Texas AFT and more than 30 other community, education, and labor organizations united in support of neighborhood public schools. Here is the Coalition for Public Schools press release in full: See the full article by Texas AFT here.
Texas education head refuses to let up on vouchers by Dr. Charles Luke
For more than 20 years and a dozen legislative sessions, the Texas Legislature has defeated one proposal after another that would have diverted scarce taxpayer dollars from public schools and transferred the money to unaccountable private schools. Just last year, there was a test of legislative sentiment on the issue in the Texas House, and by a bipartisan supermajority of 103 to 43, our state representatives voted to ban any spending for private-school vouchers. Read the entire article in the Houston Chronicle here.
December 2, 2014 – Pre-Legislative Symposium
The Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) represents over 30 education, religious, and child advocacy organizations, including the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) which created these videos. Founded in 1995, CPS advocates for the support of public neighborhood schools while opposing privatization through vouchers and other means.
CPS held a pre-session legislative symposium on Dec. 2, 2014, at the Texas Capitol. The event featured panels of national education researchers and key state advocates discussing the topic of privatization. The event was open to members of the media, legislators and their staffs, education advocates, and the public. Video of the entire event can be viewed in sections using the links below:
- First panel: Dr. Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center; Dr. Julie Fisher Mead, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin – Madison; and Dr. Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia University
- Second panel: Dr. David Anthony, Raise Your Hand Texas; Leslie Boggs, President, Texas PTA; and Gina Hinojosa, School Board Trustee, Austin ISD
- Allen Weeks, Save Texas Schools
- John Kuhn, Superintendent, Perrin-Whitt ISD
- Steven Aleman, Disability Rights Texas
- Dr. Charles Luke, CPS Coordinator, speaking on behalf of Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Pastors for Texas Children
October 30, 2014 – Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
The Coalition for Public Schools wrote a letter to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding the Texas Pre-K Expansion Grant application and the inclusion of a voucher in the application. Read the full letter here.